How much power does one person have? How can one person affect change in this world that is so vast and complex? I am going to ask us to go within, to ask ourselves, how much power do we have in our own minds? If we create our own reality, or at least our perception of reality, by what we think; what kind of power do we have over this perception? In this world of our own minds how much power do we have to affect great change?
When one suffers from mental illness it can be very difficult to believe in the power we have over our own minds, because so many times it can feel like we have no control at all. Anger consumes and rages like wildfire. Despair can send us into inaction where we retreat deep inside ourselves to nurse wounds that tear at our ravaged hearts. Even happiness can become manic and out of control. I understand what it is to be consumed by emotion, to be lost in panic, hyperventilating and out of control.
I also know what it is to assume I have no power because I had the ability to feel out of control. I had panic attacks, big ones. My panic attacks consumed me and made me pass out, throw up, break my hand, hurt people, hurt myself, scream, cry, cut all my hair off, go to the emergency room, be admitted to an inpatient facility. I mean . . . talk about being out of control. I knew that feeling well. I knew that feeling more intimately than I knew what it was to feel like I was in control or had power over my own life. My PTSD owned me, and I let it.
I didn’t challenge what I told myself. I didn’t say things to myself that were compassionate or kind. I didn’t allow myself to be afraid. I fought it. I fought it and repressed it and did everything I could to appear normal, but what I had gone through was not normal. The pain I had suffered after years of systematic physical and mental abuse were by no means normal, but how did I know that? It was all I knew. So, I owned this self concept that I was broken, unloved, and out of control.
This lasted throughout my 20’s. I suffered daily. I found myself in relationships that didn’t serve me and re-traumatized me. I found myself with people who abused me just as the people who hurt me as a kid. I lived what I believed about myself because I believed I was worth nothing, but what I failed to realize is that this was a lie.
I could see the worth of other human beings. I could see that a child deserved a meal if hungry, that people deserved love, compassion, and kindness. I knew how to give this to other people.
The ah ha! moment for me was when I realized that I too was a person. I don’t know why it was so hard for me to see that. That I, as a person, had intrinsic worth. I was worth love and attention. I was not broken, but had been through a lot and deserved love. This was something that was foreign to me because as a child I was taught that I was worth nothing.
Once I recognized my own personhood I realized that I deserved love. I looked at the two previous relationships I had with men and I saw that they treated me horribly. They were both emotionally abusive, and one was physically so. I had to leave the last one and all of my belongings. I became homeless and couch surfed. I am still recovering. And during this most trying time of my life I am focusing on the power of one. What power do I as one tiny person on this Earth have? What power can I have when all my life I believed I had none?
So, what is true? If I am a person of value, how do attract the kind of people into my life that love me the way I deserve. What is it about me that is keeping love out of my life? Why don’t I feel love for myself?
I realized my power lies within. My power of my perception of this world is my own self talk. My power over my own thoughts is what thoughts do I choose to focus on when I am not panicking or completely overcome. When I am calm, or in a state of rest, where do my thoughts lay? Where does my attention go to? For me, it was usually finding a way to punish myself for not performing properly in some way, or not doing the right thing, or saying something the wrong way, or for having a panic attack. It was very easy for me to talk negatively to myself.
If we know how to love another person though, we can learn to love ourselves in a way that is non-judgmental and supportive rather than negative and criticizing. This is done by persistently challenging every thought we have about ourselves and balancing it with a positive thought. That way we are recognizing both sides of the coin so to speak.
Doing this means that we are not ignoring one side or the other. We are not repressing, but recognizing there is more than one way to perceive something. We have the power in our own minds as to how to look at something, PTSD or not.
We can challenge self talk that looks like, “I did horribly on my test today, so that must mean I’m stupid.” with, “What would I say to my best friend that just failed a test? Maybe they had a stressful day and couldn’t focus and they will do better next time, or maybe they tried the best the could, but home life has been difficult so it has been hard to focus on studying.” We can be kind to ourselves if we choose to be. Empathy can be a choice, but the power of one comes in when we realize we have the power in our own heads to be either our worst enemy, or our most steadfast ally. We can challenge our negative self concept with love. We can see the power of one can transform a whole entire world and that world is inside of us.